Judge Disqualifies Himself From Disney-DeSantis Case Over Relative's Shares

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker condemned a DeSantis motion to remove him as “nothing more than rank judge-shopping.”

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who was set to preside over Disney’s lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), on Thursday announced he is disqualifying himself from the case, citing a distant family member’s ownership of shares in the entertainment company.

Walker, though, harshly criticized a DeSantis motion seeking to remove him from the litigation, which cited statements he made in two unrelated cases referencing the ongoing feud between DeSantis and Disney.

“In fact, I find the motion is nothing more than rank judge-shopping,” Walker wrote of the DeSantis claim. “Sadly, this practice has become all too common in this district.”

While Walker denied DeSantis’ motion, he said he decided to recuse himself after learning last week that a family member “within the third degree of relationship” owns 30 shares of Disney stock.

“Even though I believe it is highly unlikely that these proceedings will have a substantial effect on The Walt Disney Company, I choose to err on the side of caution — which, here, is also the side of judicial integrity — and disqualify myself,” Walker wrote. “Maintaining public trust in the judiciary is paramount, perhaps now more than ever in the history of our Republic.”

DeSantis’ lawyers had filed a motion to disqualify Walker, who was appointed by former President Barrack Obama, on May 19, saying his remarks in two separate lawsuits related to freedom of speech and fear of retaliation mean “the Court’s impartiality in this matter might reasonably be questioned.”

“The Court’s prior statements at least raise a substantial question about whether the Court will resolve this matter fairly,” the DeSantis motion argued.

Disney sued DeSantis in April, alleging the governor is violating the company’s First Amendment rights and its rights under the Contracts Clause. The entertainment giant also accused DeSantis of coordinating “a targeted campaign of government retaliation” against it after executives spoke against his “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which outlawed discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in some classrooms.

In response to the company’s criticism, DeSantis took over Disney’s self-governing district and installed loyalists on its board of directors.

Disney said DeSantis’ conduct “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”

The case will now be overseen by U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump.

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